Research at KU Leuven: what we learned in 2017

Surgical robots, Wi-Fi security flaws, and everything you always wanted to know about Tinder but were afraid to ask: here are the 10 most-read science stories of 2017!

1. World first: surgical robot performs precision-injection in patient with retinal vein occlusion

Eye surgeons at University Hospitals Leuven have been the first to use a surgical robotto operate on a patient with retinal vein occlusion. The robot uses a needle of barely 0.03 millimetre to inject a thrombolytic drug into the patient’s retinal vein. KU Leuven developed the robot and needle specifically for this procedure.

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2. POlluted air can generate power

Researchers from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven have succeeded in developing a process that purifies air and, at the same time, generates power. The device must only be exposed to light in order to function.

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3. does tinder lead to more casual sex?

Do people have more casual sex because of Tinder? Doctoral student Elisabeth Timmermans set out to find the answer: "One in two users already met one of their Tinder matches in real life. In a third of these cases, this led to sex."

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4. Security flaw leaves all Wi-Fi traffic open to eavesdropping

KU Leuven researchers have discovered serious weaknesses in a protocol that secures all protected Wi-Fi networks. Attackers can exploit these flaws to steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other sensitive information.

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5. KU Leuven researchers unravel how stevia controls blood sugar levels

What makes stevia taste so extremely sweet? And how does the sweetener keep our blood sugar level under control? Researchers at KU Leuven have discovered that steviastimulates a protein that is essential for our perception of taste and is involved in the release of insulin after a meal. These results create new possibilities for the treatment of diabetes.

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6. Scientists figure out how timer for cell division works

Human cells use a timer to divide: each cell gets at least 30 minutes to divide its genetic material between the nuclei of two daughter cells. Researchers at KU Leuven have unravelled how this timer is switched on and off. Their findings open up perspectives for the treatment of cancer, as keeping the timer going would stop cancer cells from dividing.

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7. Humans no longer have ancient defence mechanism against viruses

Insects and plants have an important ancient defence mechanism that helps them to fight viruses. This is encoded in their DNA. Scientists have long assumed that vertebrates - including humans - also had this same mechanism. But researchers at KU Leuven have found that vertebrates lost this particular asset in the course of their evolution.

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8. NEW DENTAL IMPLANT WITH BUILT-IN RESERVOIR REDUCES RISK OF INFECTIONS

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at KU Leuven has developed a dental implant that gradually releases drugs from a built-in reservoir. This helps prevent and fight infections.

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9. Ancient DNA reveals role of Near East and Egypt in cat domestication

DNA found at archaeological sites reveals that the origins of our domestic cat are in the Near East and ancient Egypt. Cats were domesticated by the first farmers some 10,000 years ago. They later spread across Europe and other parts of the world via trade hub Egypt. The DNA analysis also revealed that most of these ancient cats had stripes: spotted cats were uncommon until the Middle Ages.

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10. TET1 protein helps prevent congenital defects and late-onset diseases

In the earliest stages of embryonic development, a protein known as TET1 may be the factor that tips the balance toward health or disease. The first evidence for this vital role of TET1 is presented by researchers from KU Leuven. They found that TET1 is necessary to prevent congenital defects such as spina bifida as well as mental retardation and cancer later in life.

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